A video posted by ISIL terrorists on Tuesday purported to show the beheading of an American photojournalist who has been missing since 2012. The group claims the beheading is a message to President Obama to end the American intervention in Iraq. The incident is reminiscent of the murder of journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002. Pearl was a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, taken hostage and killed by Al-Qaeda.
James Foley was a photojournalist who has worked for a variety of news organizations. He was working for GlobalPost when he went missing while covering the conflict in Syria in 2012. His disappearance was ruled a kidnapping by the FBI. Before Foley was killed, he was forced to give an anti-American speech to the camera.
In the video, the group also shows Steven Joel Soltoff, a journalist who worked for TIME, The National Interest, and Media Line. He last tweeted on August 3, 2013. Soltoff went missing on August 4, 2013 outside of Aleppo, Syria. His family was aware of the situation and was advised not to publicize the information for his safety. He was held in Raqqa.
This new information may indicate that Foley was detained by the Syrian government alongside Soltoff in 2013. GlobalPost's CEO Phil Balboni gave this comment in May 2013 to NPR, "Jim [Foley] is now being held by the Syrian government in a detention facility in the Damascus area. We further believe that the facility is under the control of the Syrian air force intelligence service. Based on what we have learned it is likely that Jim is being held with one or more Western journalists, including most likely at least one other American journalist." At that time, Balboni would not disclose the name, or names, of the "other American journalist" citing a "sensitive and complex" situation. If this is the case, it is unclear how Foley and Soltoff changed hands from the Syrian government to ISIL.
Update: On Wednesday morning, Balboni disclosed Foley may have actually not been held by the Syrian government at all, as was believed in 2013. Instead, he may have always been in the hands of "Islamic militants in Syria." The GlobalPost was advised by the family and authorities not to share this information for Foley's safety. Balboni also told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell that ISIL after U.S. airstrikes began in Iraq, ISIL informed the Foley family that James Foley would be executed.
ISIL claims that Sotloff’s life “depends on Obama’s next decision," specifically if the United States continues attacking them in Iraq.
(Note: Just after 6 p.m., @zaidbenjamin was suspended from Twitter. Benjamin was the first prominent Twitter account to share images of Foley's death (the image of Foley after the beheading was censored by Benjamin.) At 6:30 p.m., his account was reactivated. )
The location at which the beheading took place is unknown. Zaid Benjamin, Radio Sawa's Washington Correspondent, has speculated that the executioner's (pictured left) accent indicates he is North African, rather than Iraqi or Syrian. Richard Venalls, a journalist with the Press Association, believes the accent is British, specifically from the South East/Greater London area. Michael Weiss of Interpret Mag also pegged the accent as British.
The video of the beheading was posted on ISIL's go-to media outlet, AlFurqan Media and on YouTube. It was quickly removed from YouTube as "a violation of YouTube's policy on violence." The video remains on AlFurqan. The site been loading extremely slowly as users watch the tragic incident. It was uploaded to YouTube using RapidLeech, which allows users to download files from blocked websites and upload them elsewhere.
Remembering James Foley
Almost immediately, tributes began pouring in from Foley's friends and colleagues:
James Foley was a generous colleague & friend. We had beers in Antakya a week before he was taken. We talked about marriage/kids...— Sheera Frenkel (@sheeraf) August 19, 2014
Here's a video Foley speaking with students at his alma mater, Northwestern University, in 2011
The White House is working to confirm the authenticity of the video (see update below), as there are often questions about the validity of execution videos, and some observers have noted suspicious edits to this video. A U.S. official anonymously told the Associated Press they believe it is, in fact, Foley in the video. White House National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden issued this statement to reporters around 6:15 p.m.:
We have seen a video that purports to be the murder of U.S. citizen James Foley by ISIL. The intelligence community is working as quickly as possible to determine its authenticity. If genuine, we are appalled by the brutal murder of an innocent American journalist and we express our deepest condolences to his family and friends. We will provide more information when it is available."
Free James Foley, an organization dedicated to finding him, offered this statement:
We know that many of you are looking for confirmation or answers. Please be patient until we all have more information, and keep the Foleys in your thoughts and prayers."
Diane Foley, his mother, posted this statement on the 'Free James Foley' Facebook:
We have never been prouder of our son Jim. He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people.
We implore the kidnappers to spare the lives of the remaining hostages. Like Jim, they are innocents. They have no control over American government policy in Iraq, Syria or anywhere in the world.
We thank Jim for all the joy he gave us. He was an extraordinary son, brother, journalist and person. Please respect our privacy in the days ahead as we mourn and cherish Jim.
The FBI has told the Foley family that the video appears to be authentic, though they are still "continuing a longer process of official authentication." Update: The White did confirm on Wednesday morning that intelligence officials do believe it is authentic.